Champions emerge

On a Friday night in Stillwater, OSU fans got an up-close and personal view of the strength the Cowboy football team posseses. For once, they didn't have to rely on bench press stats in a media guide, because at this event, the fans were the guests of honor...

It could take five months to discover whether the "Night of Champions" was aptly named, but with the improvement and exuberance the Oklahoma State football team showed Friday night, anything is possible.


The Night of Champions showcased several OSU football players' abilities in three lifts: bench press, back squat and hang clean.


Of the three, strength and conditioning coach Gary Calcagno said the bench press was his least favorite.


"If we're ever on the field pushing someone off of us, we're in some trouble," he said jokingly to a packed crowd in the basement of Gallagher-Iba Arena.


The evening overflowed with excitement from beginning to completion, at times making it hard to hear anything but the cheers and giving the participants an added boost.


"The fans here added 20 pounds to my max, I guarantee it. Adrenaline, nothin but," said offensive guard Sam Mayes after topping his one rep. max. in the hang clean by 56 pounds.


Several other players lifted for personal bests on the night as well, including defensive tackle Efe Mowarin on the bench press, offensive guard Matt Wakefield in the back squat and strong safety Elbert Craig in the hang clean.


"It kind of lets the fans know and kind of show the gains that we're doing," said wide receiver Rashaun Woods who performed on the bench press. "Just let them know and give them the inside of what goes on, and the kind of weights we can lift."


The attendance at voluntary practices and training sessions has been impressive and promising for the Cowboys this year due to the players' desire and with a little help from a coaching mandate.


Coach Les Miles told Calcagno, who in turn told the team, that if the players didn't come in with a smile on their face and the intensity that was demanded, then he was to throw them out.


"I didn't have to do it," Calcagno said.


Friday night gave those in attendance a taste of that commitment and a glimpse of the upcoming season.


"It (Night of Champions) says that Gary Calcagno is a great strength coach," Mayes said. "It says that we're preparing to play football this year instead of preparing to play track (like) in the past few years. Everybody's gained huge lifts this summer; everybody has worked real hard."


Calcagno and his staff changed the training from previous years to be more football specific.


"The longest distance we run is 110 yards," Calcagno said. "We try to keep their intensity level up, and if they don't have it, then that's always up for coach Miles to say ‘You're out.'"


So far, no one has heard those words, and the preseason has given nothing but hope to the Pokes heading into this fall.


"We have our whole team back. We have everybody that was going to make any kind of impact on the team back this year," Mayes said. "We feel real good. Real excited. The core of our team is the young guys on the team, and they're real excited, which makes everybody else just get jacked up for the game."


However, there was the possibility, with all the hard lifting and training, to empty their tanks before the trip begins.


"The funny thing is I was a little worried this past weekend," Calcagno said. "I thought, ‘I hope we didn't peak too early,' because they had worked so hard. But they did a great job all week, and the stuff they did tonight was unbelievable."


Many fans shared Calcagno's sentiments, and some even made comparisons to the days of Barry Sanders.


"I watched the ‘87 and ‘88 teams," said Kevin Galloway, OSU fan from Winfield, Kansas. "I saw those days, and I tell you what, this football team we have coming in this year could be twice the football team that was. You have to subtract Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders was great. Offensively and, especially defensively, there's no comparison I don't think."


The first chance to see the Cowboys in action will be Aug. 30 in Nebraska.

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